Today was not Captain Malcolm Reynolds’ best day ever. A morning chased by Reavers, a sickeningly close run-in with an Alliance patrol, a barely salvaged smuggling job, and now this.
The stranger stared down at Mal, seemingly unconcerned about the revolver aimed just between his eyes. His small blonde companion was equally unruffled by the double-barrel that Zoë was pointing towards her heart.
The wild haired man let his face crease into a disconcerting grin. “Is this your ship? Nice make–a Firefly, wouldn’t you say, Romana?”
The woman looked around. “Oh, yes, certainly a Firefly.”
“Anyway, sorry about popping in unannounced and all. We’ll just be going, shall we?” He turned towards his friend and that strange box that they had stepped out of only moments before, as though he thought they could just leave.
Mal cocked the revolver and heard Zoë do the same at his side. The man paused. “You’re not going anywhere until you explain how you got here,” Mal informed them.
“I see,” said the man, his deep voice suddenly grave. “We’re being invited to stay. I don’t supposed there’s any chance of tea?”
Kaylee, in an attempt to keep proceedings on civil terms, had got Simon to help her pull out a couple crates for everyone to sit on. Mal humored the little mechanic thus far, but kept his piece trained on the intruders just in case.
There was something he didn’t like about these two, something about them that said dangerous, something he couldn’t quite place. It wasn’t physical: the man, though tall, was nearly middle aged and a bit soft around the middle and the jaw, and the woman was petite and, well, sophisticated seeming. They spoke like they were just out of Dyton colony. Their clothes were old-fashioned and somewhat ridiculous, especially the man’s striped scarf. And yet they radiated a kind of power…
It wasn’t until River padded past, regarding the strangers through hooded eyes, that Mal realized who they reminded him of: the ship’s little albatross. He looked at the man’s pale eyes and wondered if they, too, were psychic.
That didn’t, however, explain how they had magicked that box of theirs onto his ship. It was time for them to start talking.
Mal decided on the straightforward approach: “Who are you and how did you get on my ship?”
“Well,” said the man, scratching at his head with the result of making his hair even poofier, “I’m the Doctor and this is Romana.”
“We didn’t mean to land on your ship, of course, but if you just put the guns away, we’d leave. It would do no good trying to explain how our ship works, you wouldn’t understand,” Romana said in a matter of fact tone.
“Try me,” Mal instructed.
“She’s right,” River whispered in his ear, causing him to start. He hadn’t heard her come up behind him. “You wouldn’t.”
“Can you read them, mei mei?” Mal asked her in an undertone. “Are they dangerous?”
River regarded the couple solemnly. “Yes,” she finally answered, “they are. Very dangerous.” Her eyes suddenly twinkled mischievously. “Almost as dangerous as me!”
Mal watched River spin away to stand next to her brother, who was regarding the strangers with a combination of amusement and worry on his face.
“Your ship,” Mal began again.
“Oh, back on that, are we?” Romana looked incredulous. “Look, I already told you that it’s terribly complicated. It belongs to the Doctor and even he can’t pilot it properly.”
The Doctor-chap looked wounded. “Romana, I have had that ship for centuries. I assure you I know her inside and out!”
“Mal,” said Jayne, who up until this point had hung back and had the decency to remain silent, “their ship is a box.”
“I know,” Mal informed him testily, wishing he’d thought up some job to keep the mercenary out of the cargo bay.
Zoë looked amused for a moment or two. “Jayne is right, Sir. Boxes can’t fly.”
“Yeah,” said Jayne, “they’re not arrow–arrowdie–“
“Aerodynamic,” Simon supplied, rolling his eyes. Kaylee giggled. Mal felt like this entire situation was degenerating around his ears. However, Zoë had a point. These two must have smuggled themselves aboard earlier, hidden in that box. That didn’t explain how no one had noticed the box until now, but they had been rather busy.
Taking advantage of Mal’s distraction, the Doctor and Romana had stood up. If they thought they could escape, however, they were sorely mistaken. In an instant Zoë had twisted Romana’s arm up behind her and River had knocked the Doctor to the floor with ease. He blinked up at her, clearly impressed. Part of Mal wished Wash were here to say something like remember that time River beat Jayne up? Wacky fun. But wishing about things that couldn’t change would get him nowhere.
The Doctor and Romana were compliant in an exasperated sort of way as Jayne duct taped their hands behind them and Zoë frisked them for weapons, as though this happened to them every other day.
“You’re wasting your time, you know,” the Doctor called over Zoë’s head, aiming the statement at Mal. “We’re not going to do anything; we’d be perfectly content to leave and never come back.”
All the same, Mal nodded at Jayne, who lead the two away to lock them in an empty room.
Kaylee sidled up to him as soon as the others had left. “They weren’t hurting anybody, Captain, couldn’t we have let them go?”
“They got on Serenity in mid flight! Once they explain how that happened, I might consider letting them go,” he told her firmly, then squeezed her shoulder. “We don’t want the Alliance getting information on us, do we now?”
Kaylee nodded, then wandered over to the strange box.
Privately, Mal thought it very unlikely that the Doctor and Romana actually worked for the Alliance: there was something much too eccentric and independent about them. However, he wouldn’t stand for stowaways on his ship, and there was always the possibility that they were some sort of free agents. It was better to be safe than sorry. Since Miranda, they’d had to be more careful than ever before.
His introspection was interrupted by a cry of surprise. “Captain! This box–it feels alive!” Kaylee was standing with her hand on the object. “I can feel it vibrate; they weren’t lying when they said this was their ship, although, a box? Oh, I’d love to get inside her!”
Mal smiled slightly at Kaylee’s enthusiasm, but also felt worried. What could be in that box? A weapon? It didn’t seem likely that it was actually a ship…
Suddenly and completely without warning, as Kaylee came around in front of what were presumably the box’s doors, someone shot out and grabbed her from behind. She screamed in surprise. Mal had his pistol out and had fired before he even registered more than the fact that another total stranger had appeared and was menacing Kaylee with a gun.
Everyone had heard the shot and come running in from different parts of the ship. Kaylee immediately went to Inara, who Mal surmised had just arrived in her shuttle. “Morning, ‘Ambassador,’ I’d say it’s nice to see you, but we’ve got a bit of a situation…”
“Simon told me, although I can see there have been developments….”
Mal finally got a better look at the new stranger, a dark-haired teen who was glaring at him from the floor. “That hurt, you know, you didn’t have to go and shoot me!”
“I don’t take kindly to stowaways threatening my crew with guns,” Mal informed him.
“It’s not a gun; it’s a piece of pipe!” He brandished the object. “Anyway, I just wanted you to let the Doctor and Romana go–I wouldn’t have hurt her,” he added sullenly.
Mal glared at the box, which looked back very innocently for something without a face. He’d had just about enough of this. “Simon, earn your keep and patch that idiot’s leg up. I’ve got a couple prisoners to talk to.”
Jayne had locked the Doctor and Romana in the empty passenger room. With some regret, Mal recalled that the room had once belonged to Book. He wondered what the old Shepherd would have said about this affair.
When he entered, Mal saw that the two strangers were sitting on the bed, looking bored. The Doctor had kicked off his boots. The Captain sat down in the chair opposite them.
“More questions?” the Doctor guessed. “No torture, though, I see. Well that’s dull. Like a good spot of torture in the morning–or is this the afternoon? No? Ah well.”
Mal sighed. “I would advise you to start talking, Doctor, or I’ll send Jayne in here to deal with you.”
“All right, all right. Just one question–“ the Doctor’s voice suddenly became serious “–what were those shots we heard earlier, Captain? I do hope no one got hurt.”
“Someone decided it would be a good idea to threaten my mechanic. Why didn’t you tell us there was another person on board your–er–‘ship’?”
Both Romana and Doctor groaned. “You heard me tell him not to leave the TARDIS? I’m positive I did.”
“You did--multiple times,” Romana confirmed.
“And did he listen?”
“I believe I’m seeing a pattern.”
In exasperation, Mal attempted to steer the conversation back in the desired direction. “Are you going to be honest about how you got on board or not?”
“Is Adric going to be all right?”
“Our ship doctor is seeing to him now–he will be fine,” Mal assured them, vaguely wondering if they were the boy’s parents, but that didn’t seem to fit quite right. Not that any of this did. “Now that box of yours–“
Romana answered the unasked question in the same unsatisfactory manner that she had used in the cargo bay earlier: “The TARDIS is our ship. She travels in time and space and is dimensionally transcendental, that is, ‘bigger on the inside.’ We materialized on board your ship quite by accident. We are not spies, we are not devils, and we do not represent any government that you happen to dislike. There, I think that covers all the bases.”
Mal frowned. “You realize, of course, that none of that makes any sense. Things can’t be bigger on the inside.”
The Doctor leaned forward and looked at him with very intense eyes. “Do you think, Captain, that for once you could just believe in something, whether it makes sense or not?”
Unbidden, Book’s last words on Haven came into Mal’s mind: I don’t care what it is you believe in, Malcolm, just believe in it.
Serenity’s crew gathered in the cargo bay to see the strangers go. The boy, Adric, was limping slightly and still seemed very annoyed, but both the Doctor and Romana waved cheerful good-byes. Kaylee waved back. Bemused, Mal watched them enter the box, blocking his sight of whatever was inside. Who knew, perhaps it was bigger inside, because they all seemed to fit.
Simon came up next to Mal. “The one you shot–“ he sounded just slightly accusatory, in the way only Simon could “---his blood clots very quickly. When I mentioned it, he said they weren’t human.”
The door closed and the box began to groan and shiver in a curious way, the light on its top blinking. Maybe they were aliens, Mal thought, as the strange ship slowly faded out of existence until nothing was left to say it had ever been there.
Jayne scratched his head and wandered off. The rest followed, talking about the curious events of the day. Only Mal saw, just as the reached the door, that River had stayed behind. She stood in the spot where the ship had been and looked up as though she could see it flying away, some how.
Mal thought he heard her murmur something as he headed for the kitchen, leaving her alone.